Who Was Jacob in the Bible? Why Did He Wrestle With God?

Jacob is a biblical hero who depicts the power and grace of God to change and renew. He is most commonly known in the Bible for his cunning and deceitful ways, especially towards his twin brother Esau. However, after losing to God in a wrestling match, Jacob received God’s blessings and a new name – Israel.
Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 12, 2023
Who Was Jacob in the Bible? Why Did He Wrestle With God?

Where Is Jacob in the Bible?

Jacob is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 25. When Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, was pregnant with him and his fraternal twin Esau, she inquired of God as to why her two babies were fighting in her womb (Genesis 25:22). 

God replied that the enmity between the two brothers was a foreshadowing for the two nations that would arise from them – Jacob would be the forefather of Israel (Genesis 32:28, Genesis 35:10-13),  Esau of Edom (Genesis 36).  Additionally, Esau, the elder twin, would become the servant of Jacob, the younger (Genesis 25:23).

What Is the Meaning of Jacob’s Name in the Bible?

The name Jacob is derived from the Hebrew verb which means “to follow.” Jacob was born grabbing onto his twin brother Esau’s heel. Hence, Jacob means in Hebrew “one who follows on another's heels” (Genesis 25:26).

Jacob’s intention to undermine his brother of both his birthright and father’s blessing also earned him the name of  “Supplanter” (Genesis 27:36).

How Is Jacob’s Character Depicted in the Bible?

From the time of his birth until his wrestling encounter with God (Genesis 32:24-29, Jacob was associated with trickery and deception.

Jacob’s most notorious acts of trickery were committed against his twin brother Esau. Jacob offered his “famished” brother a bowl of soup in exchange for his birthright as the firstborn son, which was a double portion of his father Isaac’s inheritance (Genesis 25:29-34). Moreover, Jacob robbed Esau of their father’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-29, Genesis 27:35), which had been Esau’s right to receive.

Jacob also deceived his uncle Laban. In return for 20 years of service, Jacob tricked Laban into giving him his desired choice of wages - speckled and spotted sheep and goats - by stripping back the branches of poplar, almond, and plane trees and placing them at the watering troughs where the strongest animals came to drink and mate (Genesis 30:25-43).

 Interesting Facts about Jacob

  • Jacob’s grandfather was Abraham, who was known as the “Father of the Faithful” (Genesis 12:1-3).
  • Jacob and his twin Esau were complete opposites of one another. Whereas Esau was comfortable in the outdoors hunting, Jacob was content to stay at home (Genesis 25:27). Even in appearance, the two young men were different: Esau was brawny with a thick covering of red hair, whereas Jacob was smooth-skinned (Genesis 25:25, Genesis 27:11).
  • Though Jacob was a trickster, God did bless him throughout his life. While Jacob was traveling towards Haran, he lay down to sleep in the desert and dreamt of a staircase that extended up to heaven, on which angels ascended and descended. God appeared to Jacob as he slept and blessed him and his progeny (Genesis 28:10-19). This particular story in the Bible is referred to as Jacob’s Ladder.
  • Jacob was a victim of deceit himself. Firstly, after 7 years of service, Jacob’s uncle Laban tricked him into marrying his eldest daughter Leah. Laban then made Jacob work a further 7 years before he could marry his youngest daughter Rachel, who had been Jacob’s first choice of the bride (Genesis 29:18-30). Laban also attempted to cheat Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:25-36).
  • Jacob is the patriarch of the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 35: 23-26).

What Does the Bible Say about Jacob? 

Hosea 12:2: “The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds.”

Genesis 27:36: ‘Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”’

Isaiah 41:14: “Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”

Why Did Jacob Wrestle with God?

When Jacob was returning home to Canaan with his family after his many years of service under Laban, Jacob received the news that his brother, who had threatened to kill him for his past trickery, was on his way to meet him (Genesis 32:6).

Despite sending gifts of appeasement, Jacob was afraid for his life and family. He prayed to God for help and sent his family and possessions on ahead of him to protect them. Left alone in his camp, God came and wrestled with Jacob until daybreak (Genesis 32:24-29).

Jacob’s struggle with God is symbolic of his struggle with his inner self. God wanted to enter into a relationship with Jacob, however, he couldn’t do so until Jacob admitted his weakness of self-reliance, deceit, and trickery. When Jacob refused to surrender to God, a mere divine touch on Jacob’s hip forced the young man to surrender and admit his utter need for God (Genesis 25-26).

Meaning and Significance of Israel, Jacob's New Name

God blessed Jacob and gave him a new name – Israel (Genesis 32:28) and with it a new identity. Jacob was no longer to be associated as the swindler and trickster of his past: He was a new creation, filled with God’s blessings with a divine purpose to establish the Israelite nation.

Names in the Bible have a bigger significance than they do now. Now, when we give someone a nickname, we do it for fun or because we enjoy a certain aspect of someone. But when someone changed a name in the Bible, it was a massive deal. It determined their whole identity moving forward.

As a continuous reminder of their encounter and His blessing, God gave Jacob a permanent limp (Genesis 31-32).

How Is Jacob’s Story Relevant Today?

Like Jacob, we can enter into a relationship with Christ today by asking forgiveness for our sins and declaring God to be our Savior and Redeemer.

Through admitting our brokenness to Him, God can give us a new life as His children, and we can enter into an eternal relationship with Him, full of His blessings and good promises over our lives.

Jacob was able to experience a new identity through his new name, Israel. In the same way, when we come to know Christ, we experience a transformation. It changes everything: our lives, our thoughts, our actions, etc.

We can also learn from Jacob's story that people throughout the Bible wrestled with God in not only a physical sense. There's nothing wrong with questions and the need to explore the Bible more. Christian faith isn't blind, but rather, based on how God has come through for us in the past. We can wrestle with him and still emerge with a new identity.


biblestudytools.com,  “Jacob (2) Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary

christianmeaningofnames.com, “Christian meaning of names”

hebrewname.org, “Jacob (Yaakov, Ya'akov)”

churchofjesuschrist.org, “Jacob and his family”

bible.org, “Lesson 59: Broken, But Blessed (Genesis 32:22-32).”

Madeline Twooney is a Christian writer and blogger. She is British but grew up in Australia and now lives in Germany with her husband and their one-eared pussycat. Madeline has written articles for SheLoves, Converge, and Ruminate Magazine, and is a freelance contributor for YMI Magazine. In her spare time, she gets creative as a freelance Special Effects Makeup artist, and she dances to Sister Sledge whilst cooking. You can contact Madeline at [email protected] or Tweet her at @MTwooney.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/gldburger

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